"Secondhand Lions" DVD, Blu-Ray Movie Review (2003)

12/13/2009 Posted by Admin

DVD, Movie Review

"Secondhand Lions"

Directed by Tim McCanlies, Written by McCanlies, 110 Minutes, Rated PG

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

The balance of truth and fiction has long been an important theme in art. How important is truth? What makes truth more crucial than fiction? Believing in something one deeply knows to be untrue can often feel better than the alternative. Tim Burton's "Big Fish" was a mainstream film that ventured into that territory, and Burton's ability to really bring into question the objectivity of truth (amongst plenty of other charms, of course) resulted in one of his best films. "Secondhand Lions" explores very similar themes, but because of writer/director Tim McCanlies adherence to sappy and often simplistic characterization, he ultimately hinders his ability to get any sort of coherent point across, let alone entertain.

Haley Joel Osment, the very talented child actor from "The Sixth Sense" who seems to have performed a disappearing act these days, plays Walter Coleman, a boy who is left to live with his two uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) when his mother runs off, claiming to go to school but really going who-knows-where. They've been gone for years and have only recently come back to America, with many rumors going around that they've returned with great wealth.

The uncles aren't too keen on accepting the boy at first--he's introverted, nervous, and prying. But soon enough they warm up to him, and they find themselves going about their daily activities with him in tow, and they become fast friends (inconceivably fast, too be frank). As the weeks pass, Caine tells his nephew tales of their life adventuring through Africa.

The film splits between Walter and his uncles and their journeys, which make for bafflingly ridiculous and almost offensive flashbacks. Take note--if you can think of a stereotype involving African princesses, sheiks, swordfighting and treasure, it's here. Even the blatant stereotypes in Disney's "Aladdin" pale in comparison.

And this is where the "truth vs. fiction" aspect of the film comes in. Are these wild adventures really where Walter's uncles gained all their wealth? Or have they stolen the money from gangsters, like some say? Or maybe they're bank robbers, like others say? Whatever the case, Walter chooses to believe.

Well, what do you think? Turns out it doesn't matter what you think. The film answers for you. And right then and there the whole intriguing and mysterious element of the film falls apart under unnecessary exposition and absurd sentimentalism. It would be a shame if the film had much going for it in the first place, but it's shockingly uneventful and we feel very little for the plot going out as we did going in.

Thankfully, though, there is some fun to be had in the film thanks to the three lead performances. Caine and Duvall are two veteran actors having a ball playing these wiley old potential adventurers, and Osment, while not quite matching the quality of his earlier performances in "The Sixth Sense," "AI," and "Pay it Forward," manages to work very well with them. Their chemistry pays off big time in the more stale moments of the film, and in a better production a lot of their relationship may have been emotionally relevant and heartwarming.

As it is, what we have here is a sappy, dull and cliched but well-acted time-waster. It asks nothing of you as long as you ask nothing of it. If that's the kind of film you're looking for, go for it. I think I'll go watch "Big Fish."

Grade: D+

View the trailer for "Secondhand Lions" here. Thoughts?

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